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I spent four delightfully rainy days in early January thoroughly absorbed in Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, volume one–900 small print pages followed by an ever so useful glossary of all the characters and of the many terms unfamiliar to me from his years in the Ramakrishna faith. I wish that all books with a multitude of characters, fiction or non fiction, had a glossary!

The diaries begin right after his 1930s experiences in Berlin, described in the memoir Christopher and His Kind. I haven’t read that book yet so am glad we had just seen a film of it. The Berlin experiences eventually became the famous musical, Caberet..

During World War II, Christopher had moved to the United States and spend a year living with a Quaker group helping refugees from Germany. The rest of the diaries, except for some traveling, take place in California.

I’ve already shared the following passage from near the beginning, the moment where I fell in love with these diaries. Gerald is the friend who introduced Christopher to the ways of Ramakrishna, which Christopher studied for his whole life.

More descriptive writing:

…..

Here are some more of the bits that spoke to me, which is to say they reminded me of my life….and I found it comforting that someone in such a different world (the world of Hollywood in the forties and fifties) had some similar thoughts and experiences.

Christopher had a tribulation that I shared (from 1994 through 2003, culminating in divorce):

(Asit was one of the monk initiates who noisily lived in the room next to Christopher in the Ramakrishna house, described in an earlier part of the diaries.)

…..

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Like my sleep deprived relationship, Christopher’s ended in separation.

Even into his fifties, he agonized about and analyzed his friendships.

“What I really want is solitude in the midst of snugness,” he wrote. I found it most endearing that he complained when company came to stay and longed for solitude, and yet went out to dinner and parties what seemed like several times a week.

In his fifties, he wrote often of aging. (His partner, Don, was much younger.)

….

That was just in his fifties! I can’t wait (but must wait) to read about how he felt in his 60s, in the 1960s. He wrote of a friend who turned 65: “Billy in tears, drunk and lonely–and pitiful in a way that a woman of sixty-five is pitiful–her life over. But Billy’s life is by no means over. It may even be really beginning.” That’s good to hear, as I will soon turn sixty-five.

I loved his descriptions of his home throughout the years. He always included the addresses, so I was able to google them and sometimes see inside.

In the late fifties, he and his longtime partner, artist Don Bachardy, bought the house that they would live in till Christopher died, and in which Don still lives.

I was thrilled to find on google street view some photos of the garden along that block today.

Christopher had a garden problem that I could well relate to.

(He had some close women friends, including, to my delight, Dodie Smith, author of I Capture the Castle, one of my favourite books–and 1001 Dalmatians.)

Another close friend, Igor Stravinsky, was not bothered by garden incursions.

I was so pleased to be able to get from Netflix the documentary about Chris and Don…

…which had special features at the end with Don, now an old and accomplished man himself, taking the filmmakers on an inside tour around that very house. So when I read the next two volumes (I am waiting so impatiently for an interlibrary loan of the 1960s diaries!) I will be able to visualize the inside, where Don painted and Chris happily puttered with his houseplants.

Despite the weight and size of the 1000 page tome, Jazmin managed to read part of it with me.

Speaking of solitude, I am finally achieving the non-peopling days of rainy reading that my sanity (and disposition) requires. It was hard to emerge from the diaries and read other books while waiting for the next volume.

Isherwood’s mention of Anais Nin’s diaries–“seventy volumes already”–reminded me that I had read most of them in 1980-ish. I became disillusioned when, as she aged, Nin kept rhapsodizing about how much she wanted to be around young people. Even at age thirty, I thought that was just silliness. Despite the age difference between Christopher and Don, Christopher appreciated the company of friends his own age. Maybe my exasperation with Anais Nin is why memoirs did not become my favourite genre till I discovered May Sarton and Doris Grumbach in the late 1990s.

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Reading in December

Staycation so far has had too much emotion and worries to be the peaceful reading time I had hoped for. Maybe in January. For now, my concentration has been pretty much shot.

I am still longing for the month of January, after Allan’s birthday and going on till February 5th or so, to be non-peopling and not leaving the property.

Anyway. Did I even mention these two great books that I read early in December? I saved so many takeaways that I simply cannot deal with the effort of blogging about them. If you like non fiction tales of the social internet and related technology, give them a go.

We still had Frosty then.

I had a pretty good pile of books to read by mid month.

Having read Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, I read one of her three actual memoirs and liked it very much. Cat lovers among you might like this cat description.

Via interlibrary loan, I got the second “Edward” novel, a trilogy (so far) about an aspergian man. I could so relate to his love for his new iPhone. I am thoroughly devoted to mine.

I have ordered book three of Edward via interlibrary loan and meanwhile read another aspergian novel which I recommend….the first in a series.

After the death on December 9th of my old friend Bryan, my former spouse the Leedsman reached out to me to make sure I had heard about it. We did a fair amount of messaging about it and during that conversation, he recommended a mystery series by a friend of his. (He is a renowned writer of mysteries himself. )

I enjoyed the first one, and a passage about photography reminded me of some thoughts that my favourite blogger, Mr. Tootlepedal, has written about taking up photography after retirement and how it has helped him notice things.

Frosty was sorely missed while I read this book.

Of course, any mention of Whitby brings back memories of a dreamy trip there with Chris. Most entrancing place I have ever been.

You can peruse the photos of Frank Meadows Sutcliffe here.

Skooter did not read a single book with me since Frosty’s passing. He spends his time with Allan while Allan has been moving loads of his old photos to a his computer.

Meanwhile, days were spent working on a garden project which I am waiting to write about when it is done. On one of those days, Tony, Scott, and their dog Rudy, brought us some delicious home made peppermint fudge.

Fudge and tea makes for delectable reading, as did this plate of cookies and poppyseed bread brought to us by Mary and Denny of Klipsan Beach Cottages.

When we went to our Christmas Eve dinner at The Depot Restaurant, I observed that the window box annuals still refuse to die. I came home and erased dealing with them from the work board. None of the indoor jobs have gotten done.

After Christmas, it took me three days to read My Roots by Monty Don. I was also making memorial posts about Frosty, so focusing on even the best book was difficult. There are probably more takeaways than I can get away with sharing; My Roots will have a post of its own, next, I hope before the end of the year.

We watched two slow paced BritBox specials about Christmas lights on English estates and in London. Earlier in the month, our nerves had been soothed by a season of the Great British Bake-off and by an increasingly charming three part series called Mum. Not to mention a Coronation Street Christmas retrospective and a Gavin and Stacey Christmas special during which I just about wept when they sang Fairytale of New York down the pub. (The Pogues figured large in my past. If you know the song, I think certain lyrics could be replaced with, “You scumbag, you tosser, you cheap double crosser” instead of…you know.)

Also on BritBox, we watched Christopher and His Kind, a biographical film about Christopher Isherwood, because I have an enormous book of diaries by him which I must read by January 7th. Interlibrary loans don’t allow renewals. I learned about the diaries when I read The Last Gift of Time; Carolyn Heilbrun wrote a biography of him.

The latest book I have read is a semi-memoir by the great food writer Ruth Reichl.

It is half memoir and half recipes. Some amateur reviewers complained about the idea that food “saved her life” after Gourmet magazine shut down, because her life is one of such privilege. Even though I am acutely aware of class and though she could be from a different planet than me in terms of how different her life is, I don’t discount her sorrow at the loss of a beloved career.

I skipped over the recipes as soon as I would get to something beyond me as a non-cook…but saved some of the ones whose terminology I could understand. We couldn’t even get most of the ingredients here. Our two closest local grocery stores are renowned not only for a limited selection but also for foods (bacon!! yogurt, cottage cheese, salsa) that are past their expiration dates.

The book made me long for the wider choices of food that I had back in Seattle. If I went to Astoria more, we could find better ingredients and could sample the assorted food carts that have appeared over the past few years. I do love good food cooked by someone else. Allan is an able cook who provides meals for us, because he would tire of my bagged salads and microwaved quesadillas. I tell myself I might learn to cook great food after we semi retire….but it consumes so much time and a meal is gone so quickly. Gardening is an art form that lasts much longer.

I share Ruth Reichl’s feelings about friendships made through the social internet.

And I loved this bit about her cats, after a badly broken foot kept her in bed for weeks.

Her poetic twitter excerpts made me want to tweet. But I think WordPress, Facebook, and Instagram are enough addictions to have.

Jazmin did sit with me for awhile during that book. It’s so large that there was not much room for her to get comfy.

My next book was quite small in size so that Jazmin fit perfectly.

The first in a mystery series recommended by Carolyn Heilbrun, it taught me something I did not know about the US constitution.

The mystery abounded in droll British humour of the sort I like.

And

It imparted these wise words about intense relationships:

I hope to read Sarah Caudwell’s three other mysteries before work begins again. She is far more educated than I, and the reading takes much closer attention than I have during work season.

Before the massive Isherwood tome, I intend to fit in a couple of shorter and easier books. The garden project is on hold until a few days of good weather are predicted.

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Read on 4 December 2019

Long ago, I read and loved Carolyn Heilbrun’s Kate Fansler mystery series and her non-fiction book Writing a Woman’s Life. I had completely missed her memoir about aging until recently, when I learned of it and placed an interlibrary loan.

Here are a multitude of take-aways from what is, so far, my favourite book of my 2019 reading year.

In Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, I was struck by no mention of some of my favourite memoirists, including May Sarton and Doris Grumbach. I was so pleased to see Doris mentioned early on in Last Gift.

And then May Sarton herself appeared at the end of this paragraph about Grumbach.

I knew I was in for a heavenly read.

The subject matter of life over 60 is significant to me because I will soon turn 65.

Heilbrun quotes from a poem by Marilyn Hacker, called Against Elegies.

Soon came the story about one of my favorite things in a memoir, buying a house, coupled with another favorite thing, the joy of solitude.

…..

The idea that something can be happening for the last time is even more poignant to me as I reread this next takeaway a week after an old friend, who wanted to live to be 100, died with no warning, in his sleep, at age just barely 67.

Part of a chapter is devoted to the joys of email (in 1996) and to Heilbrun’s extensive correspondence through that medium. I wonder what she would have thought of the social internet?

Next, I found a whole chapter about May Sarton. What bliss. I once read a disappointing and cruel biography about Sarton which criticized and excoriated her difficult personality. In contrast, her friend Carolyn wrote of her with sympathetic and understanding honesty.

……..

A friend who knew May Sarton and was smitten with her told me a story about being invited over and then being told to go away, because May was in the midst of a writing inspiration. I think it was in her memoirs that I learned the phrase “a person from Porlock”.

I still have these books but must have lent out my two favourites, Plant Dreaming Deep and Journal of a Solitude.

I thought nothing could make me happier than a whole chapter about May Sarton, until turning the page brought me to a chapter about England.

…..

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And yet, and yet, something of that first fascination with writings by the English remained, like the aroma of a lost love, pure, fabricated, and enchanting.

…….

I had to look that up.

The chapter goes on with the joys of visiting the home of English friends. Every paragraph is perfection and way too big of a takeaway to share here. Just a glimpse or two:

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The chapter ends with this delightful quotation about friendship.

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On memoirs in general, with reference to a memoirist named Maxine Kumin, whom I have not read.

…..

….

………

More on aging:

….

Below: I remember as a child taking drives out of Seattle with my parents and being in the countryside in twenty minutes, with pastures and cows and horses and barns.

And I know that nostalgia for the past is a privilege.

…..

On reading as an Anglophile:

…..

The passage below is just how I feel about death. Perhaps if Carolyn Heilbrun were still alive, I could contact her on her Facebook page and we could share thoughts about it.

I am reminded of my favourite song, which I would want sung at my funeral, if I wanted a funeral, which I don’t:

Love It Like a Fool by Malvina Reynolds

Baby, I ain’t afraid to die,
It’s just that I hate to say good-bye to this world,
This world, this world.
This old world is mean and cruel,
But still I love it like a fool, this world,
This world, this world.
I’d rather go to the corner store
Than sing hosannah on that golden shore,
I’d rather live on Parker Street
Than fly around where the angels meet.
Oh, this old world is all I know,
It’s dust to dust when I have to go from this world,
This world, this world.
Somebody else will take my place,
Some other hands, some other face,
Some other eyes will look around
And find the things I’ve never found.
Don’t weep for me when I am gone,
Just keep this old world rolling on, this world,
This world, this world.
As Carolyn Heilbrun says…
….which is ironic, because my next post will go as far back as 1982.
My last takeaway to share :
It bothers me no end that Carolyn committed suicide at age 77, only a few years after this book was published. She had planned to do so at age 70 but had found life to be enjoyable after all. No one among her family and friends knows why she did it. The clue to why she did it that I might understand is that “she didn’t want to be a useless person.”
I left out of this long post a few paragraphs about her decision, in her 60s, to get a dog, even though she did not like the idea of getting up early to let the dog out. (I was so lucky that my dog, Bertie Woofter, liked to sleep late as much as I do.) She loved her dog. I wonder if her dog was still alive when Carolyn decided to depart? That seems a significant point that no one mentions. You can read more about it here, including a mention of how much she loved dogs up to her last day on earth. I am sad and mystified. I wish that she had continued to love now and had lived to write another memoir about being in her 80s.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2019

While Allan helped with the crab pot tree decorating, I delved into a memoir.

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Some years ago, I read the author’s memoir, Look Me in the Eye. Recently I read his brother Augusten Burroughs’ childhood memoir, A Wolf at the Table.  I want to reread Look Me in the Eye but have had to make an interlibrary loan request, during which I discovered two other books by him, including the one above.

I love this guy, and here are a few reasons why.

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And…

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And…

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And…

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I 100% relate to that, and to this:

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And to this…

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Which seems a sad ending to my takeways.  I might not have entirely believed that people are often malicious till I was caught in a situation of being shunned in 2014.  A friend who was the other shunned one said to me, “They are picking on the aspies!” and it all of a sudden made complete sense to me, along with a lot of other factors about my life.  Still, I do prefer to think that maliciousness happens sometimes but not often.

I look forward the arrival of Look Me in the Eye, which I will then follow with Robison’s memoir about life with his aspergian son, Raising Cubby.


I had time to read another book.

The China Bayles mysteries are always good.  I love the ritual introduction of the setting in each book.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Today was a work day.  With darkness falling so early, I was able to read the next China Bayles book in the evening (along with watching Survivor and an episode of the Great British BakeOff!)

Again, I do love the description of Thyme and Seasons.

…so soothing to my soul.

Both mysteries are set mostly in the fictional Texas Hills town of Pecan Springs, and both feature lots of plant lore, including orchids in the most recent book.  (Vanilla is an orchid.)  And now I am all caught up with the series again and waiting for the next one.

 

 

 

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Sunday, 24 November 2019

We’d had this much rain overnight.

The weather forecast was wrong.  The day, while a bit chilly, stayed dry.

Out my front window, my view of gloomy blackened sanguisorba leaves could be improved. The front bed stays mostly in full shade at this time of year.

I soon found myself out there gardening.

later, a view improved

Not only did I cut back the sad looking sanguisorbas and a few other perennials, but I also trimmed back some of the hellebores whose leaves are already sad and needed removal.

Old diseased leaves on hellebores should be removed and NOT composted.

I was pleased to see that the tall mahonia in Allan’s garden, which for years has only had one flower way up high…

…now has more flowers lower down.

The Jasminum nudiflorum is in bloom already.

(My camera has plotzed so all I have is my old iPhone for photos at the moment.)

Frosty

Meanwhile, Allan had worked at the Ilwaco Community Building, mostly blowing leaves that were smothering the heathers.

He checked on The Cosmos that Will Not Die at the port office for me.

Even the night blooming stock there will not die.

The plants must be thriving from being against the south wall of the building.

a crab pot snowperson at the port

Home again, Allan cleaned the gutters of our house and the Nora House and got some interesting views from up there.

Our rolled roof is not a thing of beauty.

This evening, I had a look at Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind.  Unable to muster up an interest in his experiences with LSD, I put it in the return pile and instead started a book called The Bad Food Bible.

It gave me many takeaways from the author’s research about dairy, gluten, sugar, carbs, MSG, coffee, alcohol, and more.  These are my favourites bits.

I may have gone overboard when I decided to cut back on salt this year!

Hmmmm.

Also, I want to try these.

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Tuesday, 11 November 2019

Allan’s photo

On October 25, I had begun an enormous library book.

I realized then that I needed the perfect rainy day to read it all in one sitting and so set it aside until today.

The pages are so large that the text is in two columns. I very occasionally got confused with the two column format.

 Even  the smaller photos are superbly rendered.

Here are my favourite bits, although I did love every last little bit ever so much.

The team is Monty and his spouse, Sarah.

Agreed!

This is why when I try to add more formality to my garden, made on what was once a river’s edge, it is just not right:

About the weather forecast:

….

In my weather world, that brings hope when the sky is light around the edges.

That is as far as I got in October. Today, I finally had the perfect weather day to finish the book.  It did take the entire day, with two chapters left till the midnight hour after dinner and telly.

This was written before Monty hosted Gardeners’ World and before the Round-Up lawsuit findings:

………

…..

The Misery Loves Company department:

My hedges are the same.

And my sweet peas have the same problem.

Best tips for me:

Really? Also, I had no idea that golden oregano, of which I have so much, was a tasty culinary herb.

The photos are plentiful and sumptuous.

I had a revelation when I read this…

..and realized that we must have two arbors at the fire circle ends of the Rozanne Loop paths.  Bamboo, perhaps, which would be easiest to set into place.

I went to tell Allan all about it and found evidence that he was about to repair the Mighty Mac.

He did get the belt replaced.

Allan’s photo

The very large book was frustrating to lap cats.

This was news to me about what corms are made of:

I also learned that Fritillaria meleagris is known as “Sulky Ladies” in the UK.

Monty reads The Guardian.  Be still, my heart.

Monty has been very open about how he suffers from winter depression.  I was glad to read that he turns the corner right after Christmas.

There are a few other books by Monty that I have not read and that will require making some interlibrary loans or buying them from across the pond.  Locals can get this one from our wonderful Timberland Regional Library.  You will need a comfy chair for reading this enormous tome.

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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

This week, I read two books that were recommended to me by Terri of Markham Farm. Thanks to early darkness tonight, I had time to finish the first of them, an excellent, gripping book I had been reading at bedtime: Astoria by Peter Stark.

I had thought it would be about the early days of the town of Astoria, Oregon.  Instead, it was about the tribulations of the explorers that wealthy John Jacob Astor sent, by land and by sea, to create a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River. Their story has been eclipsed by that of Lewis and Clark. I found it more interesting, perhaps because Peter Stark is such a good writer.

My favourite bits:

In a settlement on Mackinack Island:

The French voyageurs are an appealing bunch:

A bit about botanists:

This is where I live!

and…

The travelers by land would not have survived had it not been for the kindness of tribes along the way.

Unfortunately, we all know how unrewarded the tribes were for their kindness.

On the coast, the tribes such as the Chinook lived in comfort:

In the raw settlement that would become Astoria, the settlers did not fare as well:

…followed by a description of their pitiful results.

I had forgotten my history, that at one time this area was under British rule…

..and could have become a part of Canada (I wish it had!) if the story had played out differently.

From the end notes:

I highly recommend this book and intend to read anything else I can find by author Peter Stark.

I read it in good company.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

We had much needed rain.

I did some potting up for my plant sale and then had time to read another book recommended to me by Terri:  Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners, about the gardens of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison.

Just some of my favourite bits, which were many:

Back in America:

Jefferson and his high risk botanizing:

…Oh, for leaders like these:

………

Jefferson:

Madison was ahead of his time about agriculture.

I could not, however, fully admire these men and their gardening and political accomplishments while knowing that the gardens were built on slave labor.  When I read a passage like this…

…I would ask, who built all that? While the fact that the founding fathers owned slaves was mentioned early on, not till the latter part of the book was it made more clear how the gardens were created.

and…

Finally, a chapter toward the end addresses the way the slaves were housed and treated as they created magnificent gardens.  I hope there was some joy in the work but can’t excuse the way the supposedly enlightened founders thought it was acceptable to own people.

I intend to read more by Andrea Wulf, beginning with this book:

Thank you, Terri, for two excellent recommendations!

 

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